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Sunday, September 28, 2014

Save the Gifted


Parents generally know their children are gifted from a very early age, far before any formal testing is administered or even necessary. Most of us who have babies that are early talkers with sophisticated vocabulary and proper use of grammar mechanics get clued in that our children are different from the norm. When we read the baby development milestone checklists and nothing truly is relevant, the awareness becomes solidified in our minds. As people in the outside world stare, marvel and comment on the precociousness of our children and offer unsolicited educational advice while our children are still in diapers, the signs become pretty obvious; however, it is what we do with all this information about who are children are that matters.

I just described our early years and yet I didn't advocate for my child properly when we first sought out and participated in the traditional schooling experience. I didn't adequately vocalize my children's unique needs because the word gifted is taboo and apparently, a turn off to many educators and admissions directors which therefore needs to be skirted around carefully so as not to hurt any one's feelings or come off like a pushy parent. I didn't aggressively fight for my child's extraordinary learning needs because I was just too trusting that he would get his educational needs met within the school environment. I was a neophyte back then and my kid paid the price. 

Though private preschool was an unnecessary but passable experience, the local "good charter school" was an entirely different story. Once again, my efforts to speak to administrators and teachers were thwarted since they "don't test until third grade and there is no GATE (gifted and talented education) program until middle school." So, essentially no one cares about gifted kids until they are tweens which pretty much sheds light on how clueless the school system is when it pertains to gifted children. Our children certainly are gifted before they hit adolescence and they tend to be intense gifted 24/7 kind of like breathing.  In fact, if we don't advocate properly for our children while they are young and rapidly developing their minds, discovering their identity and establishing their place in the world, then we will do them a huge, sometimes irreparable disservice.


The traditional school system is replete with inadequacies and their lack of awareness of what it truly means to be gifted highlights their ignorance when it comes to how gifted children learn and experience the world. I am sure there may be a few schools out there that understand moderately gifted children, their overexcitabilities and asynchronicity but they are not widely available and most are incapable of accommodating a profoundly gifted (PG) child. Those of us with PG kids need to suck it up and figure it out pretty quickly or the repercussions will permeate the home life and damage the child. Gifted education is not focused on when teacher training is happening as administrative matters are the priority. 

When special needs training occurs, it specifically carves out the unique needs of gifted and twice-exceptional (2e) children. Teachers and administrators are not educated nor capable of attending to the complex needs of 2e children, who are both gifted and learning disabled and suffer greatly in a traditional school environment. Parents are the ones who end up bearing the responsibility to become educated about what it means to be gifted or 2e and they will be the ones to spend countless hours reading, researching, attending support groups and advocating for their gifted or 2e child. It is time well spent but not every parent is aware enough or capable of teasing out the unique characteristics of their gifted child and determining what are the appropriate social-emotional, psychological and educational needs of their children. Many parents end up seeking the guidance of professionals and are burdened by the out-of-pocket costs that neither the state nor their health insurance will cover. So, while it is an interesting experience parenting a gifted child, it can also be both confusing and expensive and not everyone is able to handle the intensity that pervades daily life. Gifted intensity can wreak havoc on a family and is generally not embraced by teachers; throw in some overexcitabilities and a huge dose of asynchronicity and you have a recipe for disaster.


Gifted children waste a tremendous amount of time in a traditional classroom. A PG child not only wastes 100% of their time in a classroom, but they can also develop behavioral issues, apathy toward learning, a distrust of adults and may suffer from psychological damage including exacerbation of anxiety. I speak from real-life experience. PG kids are at-risk in a school environment and it is neglectful, borderline abusive, to force them to stay in prison school. PG kids are full of potential but their future diminishes the longer they spend time dumbing down or conforming to the mediocre expectations forced upon them in a standard classroom. It is not uncommon for a misunderstood gifted child to be both pathologized and punished in school which often leaves the child feeling helpless and tarnishes their psyche. We, and countless other families that I work with, have experienced this abuse and misdiagnosis firsthand. Even worse is when they get medicated so that they can sit still and endure the banal curriculum solely to make them more palatable to their teachers. Some PG kids are labeled with multiple erroneous disorders and are never acknowledged as the intelligent outliers that they are. This is a heartbreaking reality.

My kid was becoming a cautionary tale. I had to act quickly. 

On my child's way out of the broken public school system in Los Angeles, he did a layover at a progressive school that repaired him socially and psychologically which was just what he needed to become a whole, happy person again. He didn't learn anything and despite his extreme mathematical abilities that exceeded what any teacher there could nurture, he was never included in the advanced math groupings. At this school I advocated more but they just were not equipped to handle a child like mine. What is a stressed out mother to do with her PG son who embodies extreme asynchronicity, maxes out all five of Dabrowski's overexcitabilities and engages in argument for sport? Enter homeschoolingunschooling, radical unschooling. Radical unschooling is the only option for us whether we were prepared for it or not. Fortunately, it fits us like a glove. Am I advocating for my child? I get on my soap box daily and fight for all gifted children by educating parents about alternative educational choices when their children cannot and should not endure school.


Profoundly gifted children, in particular, thrive with self-directed learning. Their accelerated minds never stop and they generally learn on their own terms. For some children, clandestine learning is a unique attribute that personalizes their experience of acquiring and assimilating knowledge. Trying to push uninteresting academic material on a PG kid may end up in a power struggle that could be easily avoided if that child is given the freedom to let his mind wander. Advocating for my children means that I am providing them with the safety and freedom to express themselves fully while they engage in that which interests them rather than forcing them to endure the boredom and conformity that is omnipresent in traditional schools. PG kids are natural non-conformists which is a trait I both respect and support. I am not trying to make them become a preconceived version of who they are meant to be. My role is to facilitate and support their development while embracing their individuality. They are autonomous human beings living on their own terms and creating their own unique path which is celebrated rather than punished. No matter how much we advocate for our gifted children, schools are only willing to go so far to accommodate them at the minimal level required. I want more for our unique, intense children and merely tolerating them is not acceptable to me. 

My version of advocacy is to highlight that alternative education is often an optimal fit for gifted children. I would take it a step further and say that interest-led learning with a strength based approach is preferable to any forced academics at home or elsewhere. Passion-led, interest-led, child-led, self-directed learning which are all terms that embody the same unschooling sentiment, allow children time to discover their interests and delve as deeply as they need to go while they figure out how they learn best. Unschooling requires a shift in mindset for many new parents and radical unschooling extends the notion of freedom to the whole child beyond just the educational component. With this approach, children are truly guiding their own lives and they turn to us for support as needed. As the parent, I may attempt to influence or guide them but my children make their own choices. It is not always smooth sailing but it is real life at its finest. I am not worried about how they will fare in the real world as we are living in it right now. Radical unschooling is nothing more than authentic living and meaningful learning all day long. We don't stop learning because a bell tells us it is time to switch gears; if we are focused and engaged on an activity, it is all consuming and it ends when our minds are satiated. This unschooling journey is enjoyable for parents as well. Our days aren't stressful and I have ample time to read, write, research and expand my knowledge while engaging with my children. Though some days the intensity is all consuming, we are an extremely close and deeply connected family.


Not all lifestyles allow for a parent to stay at home with their child; however, if the opportunity is available to you then consider opening up your mind to a different parenting and educational approach. You just might be surprised to discover who your child truly is and what he is capable of when he is provided with the opportunity to engage in limitless, personalized learning. The goal for "normal" children may be to make them well-rounded human beings that stagnate at a moderate level across multiple domains; however, gifted children are excellent specialists so support their passions and let them fly. 




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Monday, September 15, 2014

Appreciate Eccentricities & Embrace Quirks

Parent the child you have, not the one you imagined you would have. I am not sure anyone's child is quite what they envisioned when they thought about having children but as the saying in preschool goes, you get what you get and you don't get upset. You can't predict your child's personality and temperament but you can adjust your own expectations and figure out how to be the parent your child needs. Some of us learn the hard way. It took bricks falling onto my head years ago for me to wake up and realize that my child's idiosyncracies weren't going away and, in fact, needed some pretty unique support.  

Many new parents with young children who exhibit developmentally advanced characteristics presume their children are gifted and they are probably right. Oftentimes parents are very good assessors of their children's abilities.  There are a clear set of characteristics that demonstrate giftedness and the reason it is important to know whether your child truly is gifted is that it will change your entire life. It doesn't just mean they are smart and it will not mean they are academically successful in a traditional school environment. You will have to parent differently, consider alternative educational options, seek out mentors as they mature and develop and in some instances counseling will be in order as well. There are so many facets that make up a gifted child and a different approach to parenting cannot be understated.  For a gifted child to develop optimally, awareness of the gifted child's unique temperatment and abilities is quintiessential to helping support and nourish them in the way that they need.  Identification does not necessarily need to be obtained through a standard written instrument like the popular WISC IV or Stanford Binet 5 tests that are often administered when seeking out an IQ number. The number one gets on a test becomes relevant when entering certain gifted programs and therefore is a necessary evil but I am personally not a fan of these methods as the only relevant way to assess gifted children. I am a bigger proponent of the The Method of Qualitative Assessment developed by the late, great Annemarie Roeper. She had a philosophy of meeting with and assessing the whole child through observation. She was a progressive thinker and way ahead of her time. I am pretty sure that she would appreciate unschooling as a viable choice for educating gifted children.


We do; however, often have the child we were meant to parent.  Mick Jagger may have been right. You get what you need. That sentiment resurfaces for me throughout my own life journey. What I envisioned for myself may also have been different than what I actually need. I didn't plan for this alternative, against the mainstream path but my children, circumstances and increasing awareness have brought me here. I love it now and do not look back in fondness at the years my unidentified gifted child was enduring the boredom of school with the psychological torture and behavioral developments that sprouted from the worst mismatch in environment that one could imagine.

Gifted children are often noticeably different in their interests, mannerisms, sense of humor, social development, emotional expression, and, of course, in their advanced and depthful intellectual abilities. A gifted child may have a lot of quirks. Embrace them; don't pathologize quirks and don't let your school do that for you either. My own children are quite eccentric and our home environment and lifestyle afford them the opportunity to be just who they are. Too much rigidity in parenting a gifted child may suppress their curiosity, creativity and zeal for life. I may not always understand what motivates them to engage in some of their puzzling behaviors but I appreciate their unique qualities and foster authenticity. They are who they are and I am not in the business of stifling creative expression. 




Different neurological wiring, overexcitabilities and asynchronicity inherent in gifted children are what make them such a different type of challenge in terms of parenting and education. We need a short way to describe the multitude of quirks and eccentricities that most gifted children espouse, or we would have to provide others who engage with them with a fairly long narrative in order to make sense. Whenever my child used to be in a classroom, the first day I would have to provide the new teacher with a breakdown of all the idiosyncracies she was about to experience with my child and no matter how much I prepared them, they were always baffled and underprepared. Gifted, like all labels, succinctly describes this vast set of attributes that go hand-in-hand with virtually all gifted children and they become even more pronounced with profoundly gifted and twice exceptional children. Even within the traditional school setting, the gifted label is shunned and misunderstood; however, in theory, it sheds light on the uniqueness of the child as compared to the norm. 

I get it now and if you are reading this, you either get it too or are on the path to realization. The lightbulb turns on at some point when your children just don't fit into the mold of the Everykid. I would never have put my child through the torture of school if I knew then what I know now to be the truth about gifted children and learning. I want a Mulligan. School is oppressive and banal for gifted children and it is a mental prison. I would never advise any parent to send their gifted child to school if they had any other alternative. It is cruel and unusual punishment and most kids will either dumb down to fit in or they will develop behavioral problems and acquire pathological labels because they just won't conform and perform to the baseline standard and they shouldn't have to. Both cases are a sad, unfortunate truth for many gifted children. The few others that come through unscathed are no better off for enduring the time wasting boredom that is school. Those that survive school are still not reaching their optimal development and may never become self-actualized. Awareness of one's self is an essential ingredient in personal fulfillment and gifted children tend to be acutely aware of their short comings and dissatisfaction with life when it doesn't unfold as expected. Experiencing existential depression is a sad reality for many unfulfilled gifted children who coast through life without enjoying an authentic, meaningful and productive existence. For us, radical unschooling has alleviated the burden of in the box thinking, rote memorization, coercive learning and controlling parenting. Our unconfined lifestyle has removed anxiety, bullying and the need to dumb down to fit in. We aren't trying to fit in anywhere. My kids are self-directed, passion-driven learners who march to the beat of their own drum.  They are funny little kooks with big personalities and they express themselves freely and openly with no judgment. No adult is the authority over my children; they are autonomous, freethinkers capable of managing their own lives. It is a different approach to parenting and education and as the gifted definition states, these two modifications are a requirement.  




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Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Hackademic Living

I am pretty sure most people wouldn't last more than an hour around my family when we are at home in our normal state. We are intense every moment of the day. There is no downtime when the house is dominated by family members who are overly verbose, high in intellectual and psychomotor overexcitabilities and everyone is supercharged at once. It is a cacophony of bizarre chaos and it is relentless. We channel intensity; it is an ongoing condition.  Nobody seems to take turns being extreme. Our energy can be too much for some but others seem to gravitate toward it.  Those people we call friends.

Parenting gifted children forces you to think differently even if you never planned on it. That is how I became a radical unschooler and unconditional parent. My kids made me do it and I am forever thankful. They showed me how to parent them and accept their uniqueness with unwavering support. Gifted children are multi-dimensional beings who experience life in a richer more all consuming way and they require specialized parenting and education. They are more sensitive, intuitive, argumentative, knowledgeable, humorous and weird and there is no off switch. It is a wildly entertaining ride to live and love a gifted child and our days are never dull or predictable. 


The more I let go of traditional thoughts toward parenting, education and life, the more we evolve into the family we were meant to be. I never anticipated having such divergent thinking children where every notion I had grown up with would be turned upside down. If they weren't such unique creatures then I could probably follow some prescribed formula and coast through every day with few twists and turns; however, that is not our journey.

When we venture out into the world, our eccentricities come with us and permeate the environments we inhabit. Sometimes we are so noticeably different that I am sure we amuse and confuse the general public. Since I don't parent with any kind of behavior modification, bribes, rewards, punishment or coercion, there is no expectation of socialized obedience. We are who we are with no pretense. Sometimes it can be uncomfortable to experience but freedom to express ourselves and remain authentic reign supreme.  


Or, as my six year old just stated, "What you see is what you get."

So, here we are living everyday with a very different perspective than mainstream thinking and I have recently been reminded; rather, assaulted by parents who are dealing with fear. Fear of letting go of educational norms and social conditioning. Motivated and paralyzed by fear of the unknown prevents many parents of gifted children from considering an unschooling philosophy and yet, unschooling gifted children is such a natural fit. Most of these parents were likely conditioned to traditional parenting and educational mindsets growing up which demonstrated the unquestioned status-quo. Back in the day, knowledge about the psychological development of children and the effects of parenting and educational choices were limited. Now we have ample research into the powerful effects of nature and nurture.  Creating a stimulating environment and positive role modeling are of the utmost importance in our home.


A gifted child's innate ability, a variety-rich environment and uncoercive guidance can go a long way toward self-actualization. Loving our children unconditionally does more for the positive development of self then telling them how they should think and what they should learn and then giving them a gold star for following adult directives. Children make good choices by making choices so providing my children with the freedom to make autonomous decisions allows them to take control of their own lives without having to wait for adulthood. I am not preparing them for the real world. The are living in the real world now.  

Since gifted children tend to be divergent thinkers, it only makes sense to remove any inclination toward in-the-box thinking. Self-determination, exploring the world around them and discovering who they want to be are important aspects of my children's development. We take a content neutral approach to learning and emphasize critical thinking, problem solving, life skills and character development above all else. What they learn isn't as important as knowing how to learn and enjoying the process. My children are more than capable of thinking for themselves and delving into whatever interests them. They are designing their own education, cultivating individualism and developing into well rounded hackademics. As a radical unschooling mom, I facilitate, guide, motivate, inspire and brainstorm with my children but above all else, I provide them with unconditional love and support. Each child is unique and therefor one size can never fit all. Disrupting education may not be for everyone but since we've opened the door to progressive thinking, it seems impossible to go back. 


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Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Back to Unschooling

We are still unschooling. There are so many families ending their summer and starting the new school year. Back-to-School.  This sentiment hasn't resonated for us for the past few years. We don't identify with the social convention of the school year. We don't adhere to school hours. We don't subscribe to school requirements. We don't limit ourselves by school restrictions. We do not emulate school. School was prison. Now we are free. Freedom and creativity go so well together and we are thriving.  We don't have an artificial start or end date for the day, month or year. We are curious, we are productive and we are creative 24/7/365. We are constantly learning and growing according to our own unique interests. By embracing unschooling, compartmentalizing our learning time has become irrelevant.


We reject most mainstream sentiment that places value on external measures which is rampant in the school system. In traditional educational environments there is so much emphasis on grades on testing as if that were a relevant way to observe whether learning has occurred and knowledge has been acquired. The only thing that testing proves is one's ability to prepare for a test and how skilled that person is at taking that test. Preparing for testing comes at the expense of all other areas of a child's life. Critical thinking, problem solving and immersive learning have no relevance when it comes to testing. For many children testing provides unnecessary stress and anxiety where the final outcome impacts the child's self-worth. What a shame that so many children have to waste their time enduring the immoderate burden of high stakes testing throughout so much of their young lives. Tests are irrelvant. Thinking, learning, creating and playing are important.  The mainstream world may still rely on prescribed measures to demonstrate knowledge but for us, it has no relevance anymore.

I have come to devalue formal education.

While still unschooling, our life looks a little different than a year ago. New passions emerge and we run with it. Doors have been opening up for my oldest son that would not have surfaced but for our alternative educational approach. Anything and everything is possible. His age is becoming less of a barrier as his creative intellect proves his value in the professional world. I, too, have grown tremendously since we started our unschooling journey and I continue to evolve into a more forward thinking, self-actualized person. There is ample time for reading, self-reflection and writing which I never carved out for myself before. It is liberating to be able to satiate my own unique intellectual and creative needs on a daily basis while my children do the same. 

We started this journey based on my oldest son's educational needs; however, radical unschooling serves us all well. I am formally educated with degrees and certificates and yet, I am far more well versed in the areas that I have engaged in learning independently than I am in any of the areas in which I am credentialed.  Passion-led, self-directed learning is highly personal, meaningful and satisfying and, in my case, it has opened me up to new career opportunities. Our lifestyle allows for healthy psychological development, emotional security, creative expression and intellectual exploration. Stress and anxiety is minimal and true connection between every family member is nurtured.  

Our days don't follow any pattern. There is no forced structure nor coercive learning. Rote memorization has no place in our lives and external metrics are treated with disdain. What my children engage in is entirely up to them and knowing how to think, learn and create is pervasive. There is no limit to our education and we are all enjoying the self-discovery ride. We are not back to anything.  We are living, loving and learning every minute of the day.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Unleashing Genius: Self-Directed Learning

Genius is a term thrown around loosely and wrongly applied quite often to gifted children.  Not all gifted children are geniuses despite a certain number attained on a standardized IQ test. Gifted children have a higher innate ability to understand complex ideas and learn more rapidly than most but being gifted does not ensure success academically, socially or vocationally and it does not always equate with genius. Many gifted children and adults struggle throughout life because of their intense way of experiencing the world without ever finding their true passion.  This is a sad reality for many gifted individuals as they never truly tap into their potential. Parents and educators may have a skewed sense of what it means to be gifted and what it means to be a genius.  A genius will rarely be the child who performs well in school and does what he is told. In my experience, genius is apathetic to conformity which is pervasive in a school setting. If you truly have a divergent thinker with extremely advanced intellectual prowess then that child may unleash his extraordinary abilities if provided the right environment in which to flourish. Through finding passions and following them with extreme self determination, a child may demonstrate prodigious nature. The intense focus, determination and ability to devour new information, synthesize it and produce something novel is part of the personality of a genius. The relentless need to create new ideas, implement them, trash them and continue producing is another trait inherent to the genius child. Geniuses are creative, relentless and prolific. They tend to excel acutely in their specialty areas and in the rest of life they may seem awkward and uncomfortable in common social situations. It makes sense. Nothing about them is common and their minds are always churning. The mundane aspects of daily life are not always survived well as idle moments can be intolerable.  When taken away from their passion, irritability and disquietude surface.

Genius is somewhat elusive and yet it is palpable. The energy emanating from a genius child is undeniably brilliant. Children with extremely high intellectual abilities are often voracious learners with insatiable minds. These children should not be in traditional school or their innate love of learning will get squashed and their divergent thinking and peculiar proclivities could get pathologized or, worse yet, medicated.  I know from experience.  Self directed learning for this specific type of child is necessary for some, if not most, of their young life. These exceptional children may benefit from having mentors in their area of specialty as well as unrestricted access to advanced materials from which to learn. The creative mind rejects forced structure and rote, mechanical learning.  Without freedom to let their minds wander, their true personalities never develop optimally.  




Historically, a certain number on an IQ test equated to the label of genius but presently many believe that the term genius is reserved for those uniquely creative intellectuals who also produce something of value to society as measured by that societies' standards. Meaningful contribution is mandatory. Geniuses espouse drive and passion that is unwavering. Dedication and relentless determination coupled with high intellect and creative energy are what fuel the desire to innovate and invent. Geniuses tend to be prolific in their chosen field(s) of interest but may not appear well rounded as they prefer to focus their time and energy in specialty areas.  Many of the great minds that we consider geniuses showed fierce dedication to their own self study and were demonstrably passionate which, at times, trumped their need to interact socially with the world.  

Creativity, abstract thinking, imagination, passion and unyielding perfectionistic drive are integral parts that make up the genius personae. If boxed in, a genius child may need to rebel to satiate their need for novel thought. These children gain nothing be being forced to follow someone else's direction whether in school, at home or otherwise. Providing such a child with freedom and the tools necessary to engage in self-education and open ended productivity is indispensable for emotional and intellectual development. Freedom must reign when your mind needs to linger in the abstract. Traditional notions of parenting and education do not apply and one must adapt to support the intense need of child whose brain is on fire. I am at my most helpful when I am simply there to listen to my son's theories and brainstorm with him. On occasion, he lets me in to fully experience the layers of his creative intellect. When he does, it is magical and otherworldly.  

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Friday, August 1, 2014

Lasting Weirdness

"I am an acquired taste.  I have pretty intense energy," I forewarn new friends.  Or, maybe they tell me something similar. Words aren't needed. If you are around me for any length of time my personality comes through pretty aggressively. It is a take it or leave it situation. I have always waxed and waned in the extremes. You love me or hate me but you are not sure which. I am friendly and affable but I don't have the patience for the superficial. I don't feign interest well and my enthusiasm is over the top. Extremes. Always. This makes for a great friend if you, too, are intense which most of my good friends are.  I am drawn to those with strong energy and complexity and thrive on impassioned conversation. I love argument. This, I have learned, is not how most people enjoy social interactions.  I enjoy having shared views and often prefer like-minded people but I really enjoy oppositional opinions. I welcome conflict.  Heated discussions are exciting for me and definitely preferred much of the time.  My husband has said that having a conversation with me is like having ice-cold water thrown in your face. I am not subtle.

I was the skinny little kid with dark curly hair and big lips when skinny wasn't in and blonde hair and thin lips were en vogue.  I was odd looking with a quirky personality and I was a magnet for those that stood out in some way. I loved the underdog, the outlier, the new kid with the accent, the culturally diverse kid, the overweight girl, the handicapped...anyone who was other than totally normal was who I gravitated toward. I continue to prefer differences over homogeneity which I find sterile. I enjoy those that others cast aside for their unique qualities.  

My friends at this point are quality over quantity outside of the social media world.  My good friends I talk to regularly and they embrace my aggressive conversational nature and oftentimes they seek out my guidance because they know that I will offer loving truth. I don't really sugar coat the truth but my candid nature and motivational type honesty helps them understand themselves better and they appreciate my opinion even if it makes them uncomfortable. And, they too, are my sounding board in times of need. I am a complex girl with a multifaceted past and the product of a dysfunctional family where I had to raise myself and learn coping skills at an early age.  Those that love me embrace all of it.  I can be exactly who I am without fear or judgment.  Living freely and authentically allows for meaningful relationships with empathic people who cherish spirited and insightful connection.

My husband is quite the introvert with little need for social interaction outside of our immediate family.  He avoids small talk and seeks solitude.  At work he has to be conversational and friendly but it takes a tremendous toll on him to have to be "on" socially.  When we are all together he is pretty happy for me to do most of the talking on his behalf. Limited social interactions suit him just fine.

Raising outliers and living a subversive life affects friendships for my children as well as myself. It is mostly by choice that we stay rather insular as a family but circumstances affect relationships as well. It is very challenging to take my son away from his work when he is in flow and working under self-imposed deadlines.  It is not entirely dissimilar for my youngest and myself.  We spend our time quite selectively with a small group of families where everyone can be strong and weird and creative and sensitive and we do not have to modify our personalities in the hope that people may think we are "normal." True friendships are more important than mass popularity. We aren't trying to fit in and the more the merrier doesn't always apply.  

For my ten year old, Liam, friendships work best if the other children are creative and imaginative.  We have given up on finding intellectual age peers because they simply do not exist for him.  Fortunately, there is one family in particular where all four boys get along beautifully as do the parents and I. Aside from them we spend most of our time with my close friends, gifted unschooling families and extended family.  It is enough social interaction for the time being. What we have found repeatedly is that for L, accomplished mid forty something computer scientists are his intellectual peers and it is with them that he can satiate his mind through high level conversation.

Sutton, who just turned six, is a charismatic child who gets along well with many and he has a unique set of character traits that are gender inclusive and all encompassing. He and I both tend to befriend new people with addiction like fervor. If we meet and there is a strong connection then our friendship may go from 0 to 60 immediately. Some friends are in it for the marathon but some are just along for a sprint.  He has had intense friendships that have been short lived but while they were besties it was an all day, every day proposition.  He is learning at a young age the dynamics of intense friendships. I am fairly certain that superficial friends won't be his thing either as we all seem to prefer a deep and honest connection.

Prior to having children I was somewhat of a social butterfly but my priorities have shifted and now my friendships are relegated to phone and social media communication for the most part.   Geography and time constraints are a factor and our divergent, schedule free lifestyle plays a part as well. We are enjoying our quiet, focused life and when social opportunities arise we participate with enthusiasm, intensity and just enough weirdness to keep it interesting.



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Monday, July 21, 2014

My Complex Children

My bizarre and brilliant children are my muse. No question. I may be theirs as well. We have unbelievably stimulating and detailed conversations about anything and everything which leads to my writing material.  I have learned so much about myself through my children and there is not a day that goes by where I don't have rich moments to draw from as inspiration. 

have known for awhile how my oldest son's brain and personality work.  He has a multitude of learning styles that are all tapped into at once for optimal performance. He's a big picture, strategic thinker who lingers in the details.  He requires graphic rich aesthetics, audio visual delivery and an interest in the subject matter and he is a carnivorous sponge with complete understanding after one take. That is just how his brain works. It is effortless learning when delivered effectively.  

What I have recently realized is a new trait that is pervasive across multiple disciplines. He is a problem solving enthusiast. He seeks to spot problems and exploit them in a way that fosters new creative channels of expression.  I didn't realize it was a part of his innate makeup until today. He is the consummate white hat hacker who hacks for the betterment of his own creative freedom. Hacking is all about problem solving, critical thinking and personalization; I just never realized that it is an inherent part of of his temperament versus simply a fun pastime. It is clearly noticeable in the type of discrete math that he delves into and I realize now that it extends to his love of film editing. Part of what he likes about editing is being limited to working with certain actual footage and then having to figure out how to create something interesting from the mediocre.  One more piece of the puzzle that makes him a unique child to parent.

Life, for him, is worth dissecting and analyzing. He craves depthful conversation, hoards information and detects problems and discrepancies as a way of life. It is just who he is. I am not that different, I suppose. We both feel a need to deconstruct ideas and brainstorm possibilities. Every.Single.Moment. We channel complexity.  Our conversations do not sound like a typical mother and child; however, nothing about either of us is typical.  I suppose most parents hone their parenting style based on who their child actually is in lieu of their idea of what parenting should look like. That is certainly the case here in the land of intellectual chaos.  If I tried to parent my children based on some formula found in bestselling one-size-fits-all parenting books, we would have a very different family dynamic and I would have no clue who my children really are.  I try my best not to stifle any aspect of my children's personality but I do offer guidance based on my knowledge of the world that one cannot extrapolate through reading books and engaging in media.  

My youngest child is vastly different. His personality is about deconstruction but not of ideas as much as it is about dismantling the physical world and all objects in his view. He creates and enjoys visual chaos. Disarray is comforting to him.  "When everything is chaotic, then you know you've had fun." His words, not mine.  Though, I kind of get it. He just really likes to take things apart, build something new and then destroy it. Deconstruction, construction and destruction all wrapped up in a cute little charismatic package with the self confidence of a mob boss and the vocabulary and emotional intelligence of an adult.  His emotional depth is naturally astute and layered.  I am not quite sure where it comes from but he is more connected than anyone I have ever met. His ubiquitous understanding of love and heartbreak coupled with just enough darkness would make for an excellent poet or tortured artist.  He wields his power through intense stares and dramatic exhibitionism while in costume and in character. 

Deeply emotional children can be scary at times especially when, in my child's case, he is also quite fascinated with violence.   It has been this way since he was a toddler and wouldn't leave the house without carrying a concealed weapon, generally in the form of a plastic toy spatula.  He is a lover and a fighter.  He cares profoundly about the feelings of others and has an impassioned view of the world.  And, like his brother, he seems to acquire knowledge through osmosis.  

There is no manual for these types of children:  How to Parent Your Omnibus Prodigy and How to Support Your Weapon Wielding, Emotionally Intense and Charismatic Gifted Child simply do not exist.  I am parenting the children I have, not the ones I had envisioned years ago.  Our life doesn't look like anyone elses and nothing is routine. 

Parenting gifted children is a unique challenge which is all consuming and incredibly exhilarating.  Every day is an adventure replete with life lessons which ignite our day. The main guidance that I offer my children is with character development. "Know who you are."  I say this a lot as we examine situations in life and glean insight into how to develop into a psychologically healthy and happy person.  We don't work on traditional academics but we certainly dissect human behavior and our role in the social world.  

Traditional approaches to parenting and education are often ineffective when you are raising a profoundly gifted child or prodigy.  Radical unschooling works beautifully for my self-directed children as freedom reigns and rules do not apply.  Structure and forced learning are suffocating to their autonomous creative minds.  Trying to keep gifted children in the proverbial box will do more harm than good and may create behavioral issues that mimic pathologies. Gifted children need to be embraced and accepted, quirks and all.  We are the noticeably odd family wherever we go and our strong personalities have been known to make people's head spin.  We don't really go with the flow and my children don't blend in. Their personalities are overt and they exude their brilliance the way most people breathe.  I have one child who lives in his head and one who is guided by his heart. They are both wholly original and dexterously challenge all societal expectations.  My complex children are rarely easy to parent; however, they sure make life more interesting.  

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